Handling of finances key issue in mayor’s race

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By Stan Welch

With one of the contenders for Mayor sidelined by surgery, the race between the other two candidates is heating up, as the incumbent makes charges that his challenger’s personal financial troubles reflect poorly on his ability to manage the town’s business.

Mayor Carthel Crout says that a history of liens, financial judgments and returned checks involving Councilman Mack Durham’s Palmetto Family Medical Center indicates that Durham would not do a good job of managing the Town’s resources and finances.

“I believe that Councilman Durham’s history of personal and professional financial difficulties reflect an inability to manage the Town’s finances if he were elected,” said Crout in a telephone interview with The Journal this week.

The judgments and liens extend back several years. Durham acknowledges the difficulties but says that his business is solid and working its way out of the troubles. Several years ago, Durham’s sister Beth lost her battle with cancer; a battle of several years that drained the resources, both emotional and financial of the entire Durham family, said the Councilman.

“The return of my sister’s cancer in December of 2007 was devastating, but our business was also being impacted by changes in the economy and in state and federal funding for certain medical services. We work hard every day to resolve these issues and I am proud of my family and the way they pulled together for Beth. It’s unfortunate that this has come about.”

Mayor Crout acknowledged the family’s loss and sacrifice, but said the financial difficulties preceded those events. “There is a history there.”

While former mayor and current candidate Philip Clardy is recovering from surgery, Durham, supported by Councilman Mike Looper, has been persistent in his criticism of the way Crout and town administrator Phyllis Lollis are performing their duties.

The recent audit presented to the town council and mayor offers support for both candidates’ positions. While the audit reflects a reduction in the town’s reserve fund of more than $150,000 over the last year, it also states that the existing fund balance is healthy and adequate.

Durham says that the budget is intended to tell how much the Town can spend, while the purchasing policy is intended to define the procedures by which it is spent. He says that Lollis and Crout take the attitude that as long as they follow the purchasing procedure, they can spend beyond the budget.

“Their viewpoint seems to be that there’s nothing wrong with spending an extra fifty thousand dollars or so as long as the proper procedures are followed. That makes no sense to me,” said Durham. Durham points out that the Town faces a deficit of as much as $230,000 in the coming budget year, as indicated by the audit details.

That amount, if covered by the reserve fund, would further reduce the fund balance to $1,232,000.

Durham also calls Crout’s concerns about Durham’s finances “purely political.”

“These issues never bothered the Mayor until I announced as a candidate. And these attacks certainly don’t weaken my resolve to pursue my concerns about the Town’s finances,” Durham said.

Crout says that the expenditures that the reserve funds were used to cover were approved by a majority of Council, and included projects such as the repaving of the parking lot behind Town Hall and the improvements to the Mineral Spring Park.

When asked why the park improvements weren’t paid for by the Town’s hospitality tax revenues, Mayor Crout explained, “We simply didn’t have $231,000 in that fund, so we used the reserve fund. We also used that fund to purchase some property this year, property that Councilman Durham was very eager for the town to purchase,

The land in question, known as the Milliken property, was purchased to give the Town a potential industrial site to attract manufacturing to the town once again.

Councilman Durham is deeply involved in those economic development efforts.